3 days til the big 40!

I’ll be honest, I’ve been dreading this week.  It’s my last week in my thirties and being forty just hasn’t been something I’ve been looking forward to.

I wanted this birthday to just never happen.  But so far I’ve glided towards the big day, in three days time, will what feels like grace and dignity.  2018 has already been amazing and things are starting to change, or rather I’m starting to change, again.

I wonder if we ever really have our shit together, or it’s simply just something that we move towards, life changes, people change, we change.

At the end of 2017, I felt like it was the beginning of getting old.  I liked my job but did I really want to do it for much longer? Life was good but was this all there was til retirement in 27 years time?

I read a book, I’ve mentioned it before, called the Four Hour Work Week, by Tim Ferris, and although the four hour work week is a distant dream for me right now, it really triggered me into thinking “what do I want out of life?”, “do I need to stay on this plodding path?” and most importantly, “what’s the worst that can happen?”.

Well, the last question turned out to be really motivating.  What’s the worst that can happen? Sure, if I took a leap of faith, and it went wrong, I could lose a lot, but would it kill me?  and would it be as bad as I imagine it could be? There’s a whole load of degrees of failure, and the worst case scenario relies on 100% failure.  This prompted me to realise how much control I feel I need to have, and it is a lot.  It challenged me to let a bit of that control go, and I have!  I have never 100% failed, because 100% failure means you don’t try again.  I’ve long believed that success is found through failure, or rather learning the way not to do things.  Every failure should teach you something.

So, I went for a job that was so far out of my comfort zone, it was exhilarating and petrifying when I got the call inviting me to the interview.  In my new head space, I sat outside the office, and promised myself I would not put my best foot forward, I would simply be myself.  Being authentic is something 2017 has taught me to be proud of, not to hide away from because people find me direct and too honest.  In fact, I think the first thing I said to interview panel was something like “I’m going to be brutally honest, I say it as I see it, I don’t believe in being diplomatic, I believe in getting to point and then working together to fix things, if that’s not what you’re after, then lets stop here”.  They were intrigued!  For the first time ever in my career, the interview ran over, not because I was talking, but because they were interested in me and my creative approach.  We talked and talked and talked and I left feeling like that was the best interview of my life.  More importantly though, I really liked the feeling I got from the individuals on the panel.  I felt they “got” me.

Good interview or not, there could always be someone better, although I told myself not to underestimate myself or over estimate others.  A few days later, I had the most wonderful feedback on the interview, the interview where I was not out to impress, just to simply be myself.  I was asked questions about things that had been on my mind like the massive change in fields, whether I was ready to leave a role that I love and this further assured me that they “got” me.  I was offered the job!

It was so hard resigning from my current role, leaving an amazing bunch of people but I’m super excited about this new adventure.  It’s not the four hour work week, but its interesting to do something new and this will give me a new lease of life whilst the main plan develops and evolves into being.

Another thing that has happened this year already, I was finally able to have refractive laser surgery.  I’ve been turned down so many times because of my prescription but now they have Relex Smile.  My vision went from -9.0 with astigmatism in both eyes, to -0.5 with no astigmatism within 24 hours.  What I cannot convey to anyone, is just how massive this change is.  Sure, I have had glasses and contacts before, but I have NEVER seen what I am seeing now.  The goal was never to not need glasses, just to get to a level where I could see my glasses would have made me happy! Amazingly, I no longer need glasses, which I have worn since I was 3 or 4. It’s emotional every time I look at something, I see it much clearer, and much sharper and I can see at least twice as far as I used to be able to with glasses.  This is truly miraculous to me.  I have a check up with my surgeon next week and three weeks later, I’ll have a full eye test with the optometrist.  The price did make the control freak in me worry, but my new approach to life meant I just went for it, and I’m so glad I did, I’d happily pay three or even four times as much, maybe more for what I have now.

I’ve also noticed that I care much less about things that used to bother me about my body.  This is a really big thing for me too, it’s given me a lot more space in my head and much less negative self talk that needs to be kept in check.  I simply accept my body as it is and that’s it.  It’s liberating!

So, I’ve still three days to go, but already forty is looking really appealing.  Being myself is good, and people like that. Being able to see is just miraculous, I hope I never lose the wonder I have, sight is a precious thing and good sight really should be appreciated.  And, if I care less about the niggly things about my body, I have more time to develop my dream life over the next few years.

Now, very excited to be forty!

My thoughts on feminism

One of my closest friends explained to me that her Tinder picture is of her, holding a book on feminism.  She told me that it acts as a very strong filter which really sorts the wheat from the chafe in terms of who contacts her.  When asked if she is a feminist, her reply is simply,  “aren’t you?”.

This got me thinking a huge amount about my own thoughts on feminism, and her frankness reminded me that I am, in fact a feminist myself.  Although, if I’m honest, it’s not something I’ve felt comfortable sharing in the past (which in itself, seems utterly ridiculous to me now).  The way society portrays feminists, often made me feel that I didn’t actually understand feminism.

I wear make up, I always wear a bra, I love pretty things, but that isn’t the image society would have us conjure up in our minds is it?  Think more braless, make up less, drabbly dressed, earth mother type and you’re probably closer to what we have all been conditioned to think of, even those of us who are feminists.

It’s often easy to think that feminists want to be treated like men, but this is very far from the truth.  Feminists want the same opportunities as men, they don’t want to be passed over for promotion because of being a woman, or just having got married and therefore probably start a family, being a mother.  Men simply are not judged in this way, and neither should women be.

I once heard a conversation between two  business men in a restaurant when I was away with work and one man was recounting a story about a snooty women who “must’ve been a feminist” because she huffed at him when he held the door for her.  Would I  take offence if a man held a door for me? hell no! But that’s just being a decent human being isn’t it?  I hold doors if people are behind me, it doesn’t matter to me whether they are male, female, disabled, old whatever… Having good manners is having good manners.  It has nothing to do with feminism or being a feminist.

Maybe the woman in story was in a bad mood, or maybe she was just plain rude, but I’m pretty certain it was nothing to do with being a feminist. This story really did outline how misunderstood the term “feminism” is

I bet you’ve known more strong women in your life than you have weak ones, and yet we are often referred to as the weaker sex and as a result, we are denied equality.  Let’s face it, women are far more represented now than ever in history, we are not longer drowned or burned at the stake to prove we are, or are not witches, but women on the whole, do still seem to be objectified in a way that men aren’t.  Sadly, some of the resulting behaviour from this objectification is deemed as acceptable, because it is a man, being “red blooded”.

So, what do I want as a feminist?  I want all the same opportunities that my male counterparts have and that is all really, aka good manners and respect.
I’d also like men to be able to say they are feminists too, proudly and without ridicule, because that means they are fair and supportive human beings, and they see no reason for us to not have the same opportunities as them.

Men who are feminists understand that women are different to men, but we are to be treated as a person not a lesser being.

True feminist men understand that a women can be strong and adaptable and still love being looked after and have moments of weakness.  They don’t judge, or patronise us for this.

I have had the pleasure of working with men who are feminists, one of whom was a fierce promotor of my career. When I was faced with men who would patronise or attempt to intimidate me, he would step in and remind them they were being disrespectful and if they thought I would cajoled by them, they would be sorely disappointed.  I used to think he was rescuing me, but I now know that he was supporting me to stand up to these men who thought it was funny to tell me to make the tea.  He was training me, to not take their crap, because they saw me as an easy target.  Frankly, he made me a very brave women at work. Because he is a feminist.

Sadly there are still men in the workplace who do not champion or even respect women. They say they do, but the proof is in the pudding  I’ve had backs turned on me by men when I haven’t agreed with them (seriously, how ridiculous is that?).  I’ve been yelled at in an open plan office because I wanted to discuss why training 80 people in two hours without affecting service wasn’t realistic.

I could go on… But I won’t.

I actually feel these type of acts are just plain rude, however, when male colleagues get more respect in similar conversations we are in the realms of some serious issues that these men have with women specifically. Interesting to note that the men who behaved like this to me, do so to other women, so it’s not just me.

I’ve worked in places where it’s fine for men to be honest and say what they think, but when I or other women do, we’re called harsh, insensitive, inflexible and difficult.  How is that equal? We’re expected to just agree and be soft about things.

These types of men make everyone feel uncomfortable and sadly there are still many around.

Society has changed a huge amount since I was born.  I think for the better.  There are a lot more women in the work place, in senior roles, but also, divorce is easier than it used to be.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that divorce should be a quick exit to what should be a lifelong commitment, but having been trapped in two marriages in my lifetime with very destructive and very non-feminist men (the first was adamant that we would have at least four children and there would be no discussion about it, the second, frankly just a bully who knocked me back every time I grew) , it is the right thing for some women (and some men too, I’m not suggesting that men are the only problems here).  In the past, couples had to stay in miserable, life eroding marriages and some of  the children who were a product of this were damaged and so the problems were perpetuated.

My son has grown up seeing me work, seeing me progress, seeing me grow and learn to be happy.  At nearly 18, he cleans the house to help us out, he does his own washing and thinks nothing of doing this.  He has a female boss who he really looks up to.  I truly believe that this is because of my choices to not be disrespected anymore. I believe I have raised him as a feminist, without even really thinking about it, and this makes me proud.

My partner Mark, has taught me the most about feminism, probably without even knowing it.  In fact, scratch that, he’s taught me about what it is to be truly respected.  I think that the key to gaining any equality, be it in gender, race, religion, disability, isn’t legislation, in fact it saddens me that legislation of this type is still needed.

Good manners and respecting each other is all we need to do.

 

Books that changed my life, and helped me sort my shit out – Chapter 1

The Chimp Paradox: The Acclaimed Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness

This was one of the first books I read that made me actually understand myself rather than try to change.  Although change is not a bad thing at all.   The Chimp Paradox made me feel like I was ok!  There was nothing wrong, my brain just behaves in a different way to other people.

I always struggled to understand Mark when I asked, “What are you thinking about?” and he’d say “ummmmm, nothing”.  How could he be thinking nothing????  I literally have never had any time in my life where I have not been thinking about something.  This book goes a long way to helping you understanding this.

The premise of the book is to very much simplify the way the brain works in a non-scientific way that helps us to understand what is going on in our heads.

The three main aspects of the brain are what Professor Steve Peter’s calls, The Chimp, The Human and The Computer.  The Chimp, for me was the most intriguing and explained the endless conversations I have in my head, particular if I am down, or emotional or doing something new.

I have a tendency to panic think.  I can think about a perfectly normal situation and change it in my head to something much bigger, or a problem or see things in it that I hadn’t noticed before.  I knew I did this, but didn’t know why.  I could work myself into a right state in this way.  I used to think it was “gut instinct” but I have come to realise, through this book that my “Chimp” causes this, and for a good reason which I’ll come to in a bit.  My “human” tries to reason with my “chimp” but the “chimp” won’t listen.  Or so it would seem.

The book talks about everyone’s chimp being slightly different.  What I quickly came to realise was that whilst my chimp rarely ever stops making a bit of a noise in my head, other peoples’, like Mark’s, is basically asleep most of the time.  I started to wonder if Mark has a better chimp than me.

I discovered that the chimp you have, is the best chimp for you, you just need to be able to recognise, and manage it.  The latter being much easier if you do the former.

My chimp is a paranoid female chimp in my mind.  She chatters nervously, endlessly but this is a purely protective action.  My life has been full of painful and destructive situations and people, so she’s very sensitive.  She’s always on the lookout for danger and wants to warn me, protect me, like a mother looking after her baby chimp.

Mark’s chimp is quite comfortable sleeping, he thinks about things differently, and this comes out in the things Mark often says “it is what it is”,  “what will be will be”.  He’s very calm about life but if you wake him (the chimp that is, not Mark) he gets grumpy.  But once he’s had his say, he’s back off to snoozing again.  My chimp cannot do that, she gets too worked up and can’t let it go and that is reflected in how easily I get hurt, despite my tough exterior.

So, is a paranoid chimp a bad thing and a sleepy one a good thing?  No!

The paranoid chimp spends a lot of time on the lookout for danger, as Peters’ explains, a baby chimp with a paranoid mother is likely to survive because she’s so alert and acutely aware of her environment.

Therefore, having a paranoid chimp is better, right?  No!

The sleepy chimp takes a completely different attitude.  Mark’s chimp thinks “what will be will be, we’ll deal with it when it gets here, no point wasting time worrying about it”.  There’s a lot of freedom in not worrying.

A common quote (source unknown) about worry is “worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength” and that’s very true.  Worrying about things that may happen doesn’t change whether or not they will happen.

So, I came to the conclusion that neither was best, and I started acknowledging the chimp in my head.  When she made me panic, I thanked her for her concern and understood what she was doing.  She’s got calmer since I’ve done this.

You know that dream, where you’re trying to be heard, screaming at the top of your lungs, but no one can hear you or is listening? This is what I think my chimp was doing.  As soon as I listened calmly, rather than getting caught up in it, she calmed down a bit.  She stills get upset every now and then, just the other day at work actually, but it’s better.  This snippet of understanding has really helped.

Another very memorable part of the book was about friendships (or tribes).  For a long while, I’d struggled with some friendships where I was putting all the effort in all the time.  Often getting hurt by people’s actions or inactions. This book explains a lot about how tribes form, why people leave them and why they should.  Also, why it’s hard to bring a new friend into the tribe sometimes.

This has been a repeat theme in some of the other books I have read, for example, Timothy Ferriss, calls it “Cutting the Fat”.

It’s a really hard thing to do, cut people you were once close to, loose.  Even harder with family members with whom you’re “supposed” to be able to put up with anything from.  It’s essential though, these people do hold you back, and that’s a cold hard truth.  When friendships or relationships make you feel bad about yourself, and the people involved show no sign of changing how they treat you, distancing yourself will turn down the paranoid part of your chimp and enable them to relax a bit once they have got over it.

I enjoyed this book so very much, at times I was laughing out loud.  “That’s so me” I kept saying.

It helped me to understand, and more importantly, accept who I am.  I now recognise how I let my thoughts overtake me sometimes, disproportionate to the situation and most importantly, I felt like a normal person for the first time in as long as I can remember.  Quirky, different, erratic but normal.

Click the image to buy from Amazon

Sorting my shit out with eating

Unlike most people, I am an emotional non eater.  When I am emotional, my body just never feels hungry.  “I wish I was like that, you’re lucky” people exclaim, and I get it!  Most people I know eat and eat and eat when they are  emotional, and then put weight on, and then feel bad because they’ve put weight on, which makes them emotional, so they eat more etc etc.

It doesn’t feel “lucky”.  I struggle to deal with my emotions for a number of reasons, which I’ll elaborate on in another post.  But the hunger is replaced by something far more uncomfortable, even painful at times.  It’s a big hard lump in my throat and tummy, an entirely emotional hard lump, but it feels like I’m so full, like I cannot eat anything.

When you are emotional, you need food to keep your body going, I just feel weaker and weaker and that makes me even less able to cope with my emotions.

Let’s face it, I’m not in danger of starving but it does affect my ability to be resilient and find a way out.

The key I have found, is to nibble.  I have discovered a love of English cherry tomatoes, they are almost like a tine little sweet drink and have often helped me to get back to eating more substantial meals. 

When I’m not having an emotional meltdown (these are getting rarer and rarer) I have discovered that nourishing your body rather than just feeding it, is an enjoyable and delicious thing.

I cook from scratch every night – remember I work a full time job, run a business, and go to the gym most evenings, so having the time to cook anything used to be a major issue, let alone something delicious and nutritious.

This is where the ubiquitous Joe Wicks, AKA The Body Coach comes in.  You’ve almost certainly heard about him or even seen him.  He helps transform people’s bodies using a combination of food and HIIT training.

Well, I’m not one for diets, somehow deprivation just isn’t something I can maintain, but he produced a cook book called Lean in 15: The Shift Plan. For me, being able to cook ANYTHING in 15 minutes sounded interesting.  Even ready meals can take that long, right?

We bought the book in early 2016, and quickly snapped up his other two Lean in 15 books as they came out.

Over the last two years, 99% of the meals we have eaten have been from his books.  The meals are unbelievably tasty and really do take fifteen minutes to make (sometimes less).

Things Joe Wicks taught me:

  • I love cooking
  • I’m quite good at cooking
  • Sesame oil is perhaps the most divine substance you can put of your food
  • How to get kids to eat spinach and kale (Mark’s daughter cites kale as one of her favourites!)
  • Fat in your food is not the enemy
  • My body feels nice when I eat well
  • That planning meals and shopping to recipes is the ONLY way to be able cook nutritious meals quickly and from scratch when you are a normal person!

I don’t follow his methods meticulously, as with all that I learn, I take what works for me and make sure it sticks.  He talks about prepping your meals in advance.  I found I just didn’t want to do this, it took up my Sunday and I didn’t want it to.  So we eat breakfasts, inspired by the books but modified to suit us, lunch could be anything but the evening meal, is Joe Wicks time (with a few “Lou” tweaks).

An example of a “tweak” I make each day is that as I am vegetarian, wherever there’s meat or fish, I swap in Quorn. Easy.  Oh, I also leave out fish sauce and add a bit more sesame oil if the recipe calls for it.

Even if I haven’t convinced you to give Joe Wicks a go, do try to meal plan weekly and then do your grocery shop online.  Why?

  • by planning your meals, you’ll know exactly what ingredients you need –  there’s nothing worse than choosing a meal to cook tonight and realising you haven’t got chopped tomatoes you need, and then having to come up with something else.
  • it means you don’t have to think about what to make for dinner when you get home.  Just check the planner and off you go!
  • shopping online prevents those impulse buys, this helps your waistline and your pocket as you’ll only buy the stuff you need – so it will save you money!  I was surprised when I first started doing this, my weekly shop was on avergage £20 cheaper online than in the store – not because it cost less, but because I knew exactly what I needed – I used to meander around the store with no list and frankly no idea what I was going to cook, making it up as I went along.
  • it saves time – you don’t have battle the crowds and queue in Asda.  These days, most supermarkets deliver for a fee, and often if you buy a delivery pass, the fee works out very cheap.  And if you live close to your supermarket, like I do, or you pass it on your way home, try click and collect.  Some supermarkets charge for this (about £1) but others, it’s free.

Here’s a link to a Meal Planner I’ve created.

As with most things, you need to be quite disciplined with yourself to make this stick but very quickly you will see the benefits.  

Here’s how I do it: Shopping list

Friday evening – select 7 meals from the three Joe Wicks books making sure I write down which book and which page number along with the title of the recipe on a planner. Here is an example of what I use– it’s just a spreadsheet. (I sometimes get Mark to do the selecting.)

I then write a list of what I need to order for the shopping – in addition to this, I put a new list on the fridge door each week for things that we use up during the week and things that we need every week, like squash, bin bags, rinse aid, bread, milk etc. Here’s an example for you –

Then I go to my Asda app and order the food.  Asda are quite good at telling what’s in or out of stock at the time you order it so you can make changes as you go – interestingly though, not all the products on the shelf at Asda are available online so I found out.  So sometimes, rarely but sometimes, it’s worth having a stroll around the actual store, pick your time though :).  Anyway, I tend to do click and collect and I just pick a time on the Saturday that works for me.

Saturday in the allocated hour – drive up, scan the order QR code and they bring your shopping to your car! Perfect!  And you have all you need to cook all week!

This approach saves me time, money and is relatively stressless compared with battling the masses on a Saturday.

Going back to the start of this post, this approach actually takes away a lot of the issues I would face when feeling emotional i.e I can’t think of anything to cook (already taken care of), I don’t have anything in (again, sorted), I don’t feel like cooking (ok, this one is a bit harder but it’s 15 mins to a great meal).

Sometimes, when we feel emotional, achieving something can help.  Sometimes that’s simply getting out of bed, other times it’s climbing a mountain but I find making a lovely meal for my family, that is well planned and therefore easy, makes me feel just a tad better and sets me on a better path emotionally.

So now I’m off to plan my meals for next week.

Comment if you have any questions or thoughts.  If you’d like the templates in editable formats, drop me a line and I’ll send them over 🙂

 

 

 

About me

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So, this is me! Six weeks away from my 40th birthday (eeeek). Life is fabulous, and I feel better about myself than I ever have done!

It wasn’t always like that though, life has been hard and has got to me, almost beaten me even at times, as it does with most people. I’ve always strived to find peace in my head and my life, but for nearly all of my life, I felt that it was unattainable or just plain stupid to want that.

Over my adult life, I’ve found a great deal of inspiration that has kept me from sinking into my neuroses and depressions, and made me in to strong, resilient human being and in recent years, I came to realise that other people struggle.

My ever supportive, significant other, Mark, felt that my life is interesting enough that you might like to read about it. So here is my blog.

My friends talk about similar, albeit different situations and problems and exhibit the same thoughts and feelings about themselves as I have in the past. In fact, my wonderful group of friends use the phrase “I need to sort my shit out!” regularly and one even commented that I seem to “have my shit together”, so it felt like that would be a great title for my blog.

I did a bit of research and found out that lots of people actually ask Google about sorting their shit out too, and this confirmed Mark’s thought that me writing, may be of interest. (plus, if I’m writing, I’m not talking, and he gets peace and quiet ;))

I plan to post about my past, my present and my future, share things that have helped me ranging from “top tips” to “totally changed my life” stuff, and hopefully this will help you on your journey.

I want to share with you, the people, books and resources that have had a massive impact in the hope that you will find them transformational too.

So, that’s what I want to do, but who am I?

I’m Lou. I work in a fairly well paid job doing something I’m quite good at for a charity. My partner of two and half years (although it feels like forever, in a good way) is Mark, he challenges me on my thinking on almost a daily basis and has brought me joy and mental freedom in my day to day life. My son Cam is 17, and is a super young man that I’m extremely proud of, I can’t wait to see what he’ll achieve. We have a rescue cat, Bubbles, who frankly is quite strange and very highly strung but she makes us laugh a lot and we love her dearly.

In a moment of madness (or clarity maybe), and on an absolute whim, I set up an online gift store specialising in Flamingo and Unicorn gifts (www.flamingocentral.co.uk) which has become very popular very quickly, much more than I ever dreamed of (which wasn’t very much to be honest – I still lack confidence in myself at times).

The trigger for Mark suggesting I write this blog was that I got scared when we took £1000 in a weekend. I panicked and stopped working on my business (sounds mad doesn’t it? but I have learnt that I, like a lot of other people, have a fear of success – which is bizarre, as isn’t that what we strive for all the time?).

Luckily, I’d already started digging myself out of this by reading Timothy Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week. The first couple of chapters made me feel overwhelmed and emotional, not the book itself, but reflecting on my life and projecting my future. I decided then and there to start my future now. Well, at least to start it. I’m just under 30 years away from retiring (30 YEARS!!!) and I know that as much as I love my job, I categorically, do not want to be doing it for another 30 years!

This is not the first time I’ve decided to start my future now. I truly believe that each time I have learnt something significant, it has changed my then future, to get me to the point where I am now.

I was not a bright child, I even heard my mother saying that to the neighbour of the garden wall one time! And then, as if to prove her right, I left school with a grand total of 3 GCSE’s out of a possible 12.

I come for a town know only for it’s deprivation and Naval presence. I’ve failed at literally everything, at least once and yet I have a great life. So great in fact, that when I sat down with the 4 Hour Work Week book, loaded the blog with the extra resources on https://tim.blog/, I actually couldn’t think of anything I wanted. Now, whilst I think that’s actually quite a fantastic place to be, I also know that stagnation in life isn’t good. So I’m working on some small things knowing that I’ll get the hang of it and figure something out. Taking control of your future right now doesn’t mean you need all the answers right now.

Our lives are ongoing works of art that we continue to change and perfect.